How Do You Know if You’re Forgetful or Suffering From Alzheimer’s?


It is natural to be disturbed and frightened by the prospect and presence of memory loss, especially as an individual ages. Potentially debilitating anxiety may flit around in such a person’s head: “Is my brain deteriorating? Do I have some sort of dementia? Am I destined to succumb to Alzheimer’s disease?” Individuals who suffer with such anxieties may benefit from a comprehensive neuropsychological assessment, which measures one’s cognitive abilities, including animal naming tests, auditory learning, IQ and memory scales. The purpose of such tests is to determine whether or not the memory loss one may be experiencing is normal, or if it is an ominous symptom of something more serious.

Memory loss vs Alzheimer’s

The two vary dramatically in prognosis, and are, unfortunately, frequently confused by laymen and professionals alike. Aging individuals may experience brief “senior moments,” in which, for example, the person forgets a familiar person’s name. Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is used to refer to such changes in memory. All that is meant is that these comparatively mild, if troubling, changes are more frequent than what might be expected for an individual at such and such an individual’s age. These changes may include forgetfulness with respect to conversations or recent events, greater difficulty in solving more difficult cognitive problems, multitasking, or making decisions. It is when daily activities can only be performed with great difficulty, or not at all, that dementia may be the culprit.  


Rather than being a specific disease, however, dementia is a group of symptoms which interfere, to a certain degree with daily living activities and interpersonal interaction. While memory loss often occurs in those afflicted with dementia, other brain functions are affected as well. Indeed, dementia is used to refer to symptoms that extend beyond mild memory loss, such as changes in personality or behavior, paranoia, apathy, difficulty in planning, organizing, coordination and motor functions, or problems with use of language or reasoning.  

Importance of early diagnosis

For concerned individuals who would opt for a less spartan cognitive assessment, 8-12 minute tests can be conducted in a doctor’s office. These tests can determine whether or not memory loss is age-appropriate or pathological. Although researchers from the University of Michigan report that only about 50% of individuals who believe they are suffering memory seek medical help, an early diagnosis may improve the admittedly poor prognosis of an individual with incipient dementia. Friends and relatives of the afflicted individual will be better able to determine optimal living arrangements for him or her, such as medical administration and help with daily tasks, such as bathing and hygiene upkeep.   

Montreal Cognitive Assessment 

Montreal Cognitive Assessment The optimal assessment for memory loss is the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA), developed in 1996. The Mini-Mental State Exam, though more popular than the former, is not as sensitive in distinguishing MCI from dementia. Although useful in detecting the onset of dementia, its usefulness in detecting mild cognitive impairment is dubious, and it does not test for executive function deficits, such as the ability to plan and perform tasks, or organize, at all. Furthermore, cultural background, speech or learning disorder, language fluency and education, unfortunately, may distort the results of this exam. Both tests measure concentration, attention, language, conceptual thinking, memory and the ability to calculate. Lasting 10-12 minutes, the MoCA has more difficult problems, with the result that it is more sensitive a measurement tool, able to pickup on potential problems the MMSE may not. The distinction is important, as it is possible to confuse between mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease; a distinction which makes a whole world of difference.